Paine's Christmas Trees
Route 100, Morrisville, Vermont

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 "The Perfect Tree"

Seeing through the forest for the perfect tree--
The Paines take pleasure in a family tradition

by Pete Hartt
The Stowe Reporter
December 19, 1996

Family Portrait
Family Portrait: Standing from l to r: Max Paine, Jr., Tom Paine, Gretchen Arnold, Inga Paine, Maxine (Paine) Fowler. Front row: Heidi Arnold, Carline Allen, Max Paine, Sr. Photo by Glenn Callahan (Stowe Reporter)

"Where are the best trees?"

It's a question that Max and Inga Paine have heard tens of thousands of times. It's a question that their sons Max, Jr. and Tom, and daughters Maxine and Jean have heard tens of thousands more times. And it's a question the extended family of Christmas season employees has heard thousands more times.

Just as the Christmas season in many families revolves around finding the perfect tree, for more than 40 years the Paine family's lives have revolved around growing the best seasonal centerpiece.

First there were other professions. Max Sr. concentrated on a plumbing and heating business while Inga worked as a nurse. Max Jr. is the head of the maintenance department at Copley Hospital and Tom has a plumbing business of his own.

But for thousands of people, the name Paine is often the kick-off to Christmas.

So, where are the best trees?

"I was here until 9:30 Friday [night] selling trees," Max Paine Jr. said. "A guy was in here buying a tree and asked me what percentage of trees were premium trees -- they all are, to someone."

Nearly 2,000 times between the end of October and Christmas, someone will find that perfect tree at Paine's.

And to think, it might have been fur coats, not Christmas trees.

"We had moved to New York because Max had started a mink farm with a friend from the Army," Inga Paine said. "But it wasn't a place I wanted to raise children. I disliked the area with a passion. We needed a place where we could raise the mink, so we bought this place."

"This place" is halfway between Stowe and Morrisville, and was mink farm for a few years before Max Sr. took "the better bet" of plumbing and heating.

In the mid-1950s, still tending to the mink farm, but with plenty of available land, the Paines planted Scotch pines. A tradition was born.

The tradition has changed slightly over the years, but customers still come and cut their own perfect tree, and the Paines are always willing to offer up the best answer to the oft-asked question, "Where are the best trees?"

"When I was trimming the trees I could tell you where every tree on the lot was," Inga said. "But my perfect tree doesn't actually have to be perfect, nothing in life is. But you have to know where it's going to be. It can't be too big for the room and it has to be big enough to hold the ornaments."

Today, the family alone isn't big enough to serve all of the customers. So as Christmas approaches Max Jr. and Tom bring in friends and distant relations to help with the operation, as tractors cover the lots carrying back perfect trees and perfectly happy customers.

The land has been divided between Tom, Max Jr. and Max and Inga, but the operation is centered around the original farmhouse. Inga doesn't trim any more and spends much of the season feeding the crew, another Paine Christmas tradition.

When Max and Inga started selling trees they sold them for $5 or $10. Over 40 years the price has gone up to $25 a tree and as much as the money has been important for college tuition, a down payment on a house, or to buy more tree stock, for Inga, it's never been only about the money.

"We all feel like part of people's Christmas," she said. "We get so many pictures from people after they get the tree home and decorated. It's more than just selling the tree and to me, that's more important than the money. When people couldn't afford it I couldn't stand to see them go away without one. I've always loved giving trees away."

Inga and her daughters still make and sell wreaths, while Max Jr. and Tom take care of most of the trimming and shearing of the standing trees on the original farm and on leased land in Wolcott. Some of the trees are sold wholesale and end up being part of someone's Christmas sold off a lot in the city.

And there is a science to the business, as well as an emotion.

"It's like being a dairy farmer, you have to keep up," Max Jr. said. "It used to take 14-15 years to get a tree up to a size you could sell, now it takes seven or eight."

And Scotch pines have given way to Fraser firs, the jackets the staff wears are lined with fleece, and many of the wreaths are made elsewhere and decorated by the Paines.

But one thing hasn't changed, and probably never will.

"I remember once there was this woman who had come up from Texas and she'd never seen snow before," Inga said. "She came up and wanted a nine foot tree. So we went off and found her the tree on a little bit of a sidehill, but she had to have it cut right at the dirt. Dennis (Bedell) went out to cut it for her and went up about an inch on the downhill side. When we got back she was furious, it wasn't exactly at the dirt and she wasn't going to buy it. I said fine and that I hoped she could find one somewhere else, and she left. We put the tree with the precut ones, but about 20 minutes later she was back wanting her tree. I told her that would be fine, if it hadn't been sold and she got mad again that we might have sold her tree. But it hadn't been sold and she took it back to Texas...I guess she went away happy."

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Paine's Christmas Trees - 4904 Laporte Road, Morrisville, Vermont 05661
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